Iman Shumpert was as nervous as he ever gets.
“I don’t get nervous,” he said late Thursday night from his home in Oak Park, Ill. “For me to be nervous means something big is about to happen.”
That something happened when NBA commissioner David Stern strode to the podium of the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., carrying a card with the former Georgia Tech guard’s name on it.
“I’ll just remember him looking down and not really knowing how to pronounce my name and him finally figuring it out, saying my name,” Shumpert said. “I heard my first name and I couldn’t hear anything else after that. I just remember everyone jumping up and down and my mother grabbing me. It was a surreal feeling.”
Shumpert went to bed, briefly, as the newest New York Knick, chosen by the NBA flagship team with the 17th pick of Thursday’s NBA draft. He had a 4:45 a.m. Friday morning wakeup to catch a 7:30 a.m. flight to New York to meet with his employers.
“It’s a dream come true,” Shumpert said. “I can’t even put it into words.”
Shumpert’s selection completed a remarkable surge up the draft board. When he decided to keep his name in the draft in early May and skip his senior season, he was pegged as a second-rounder at best. A month ago, espn.com rated him as the No. 42 player in the draft and the No. 11 point guard.
In a draft heavy with point guards, Shumpert was the fifth off the board.
“If we want to become a better defensive team, we have to acquire good defensive players,” Knicks senior vice president Glen Grunwald told ESPN following the selection. “We love his size, his athleticism.”
Shumpert evidently won over the Knicks in a pre-draft workout. His size (6-foot-4, 222 pounds and a 6-9 wingspan), athletic ability (his standing vertical leap of 36.5 inches was the best at the May draft combine) and defensive prowess made Shumpert stand out in a crowded field.
“I felt like I played great,” Shumpert said of the Knicks’ workout. “I felt like I did what I needed to do. I felt like me.”
Shumpert spoke briefly with Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni and outgoing team president Donnie Walsh Thursday night.
“He’s excited for it and hopes I’m ready to get down to business and work,” Shumpert said of D’Antoni.
The Knicks could prove to be a good fit for Shumpert and vice versa. New York, one of the weakest defensive teams in the NBA, can use any help they can get. Shumpert, on top of leading the Yellow Jackets in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals, was an All-ACC defensive team pick. He has the size, quickness and strength to defend both guard spots. His ability to play both could make him a running mate with backup guard and former Jonesboro High star Toney Douglas.
Shumpert’s father Odis Shumpert II was excited for his son’s chance to serve as an understudy to Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups.
“With Chauncey Billups, you can’t go wrong,” Odis said. “I think Iman’s been selected by a great team. He’ll be able to work well with them. He’s willing to learn. He’s got no choice.”
Further, Shumpert knows Douglas from working out together in Atlanta. He shares his agent, Happy Walters, with All-Star forward Amar’e Stoudemire. (Stoudemire wears the No. 1 jersey that Shumpert wore at Tech. He doesn’t expect to make a bid on it. Said Shumpert, “He’s got a lot more money.”) For what it’s worth, the trail from Alexander Memorial Coliseum to Madison Square Garden has already been blazed by a good friend – former Tech women’s star Alex Montgomery, a rookie with the WNBA’s Liberty.
“He’s in the mecca of basketball,” Odis Shumpert said. “He’s got to play off the charts.”
Thursday night, after he’d played basketball during the day to calm his nerves, then sat through 16 nerve-wracking picks before his name was called, and finally celebrated with about 140 family members and friends at an Oak Park restaurant (Odis Shumpert told Iman the next tab belongs to him), Shumpert was ready to start. He doesn’t know what affect a lockout will have on his future, but he does know he’ll have to work on his jump shot and decision making.
Getting drafted, he said, is “something that makes me want to go in the gym right now and work hard. I want to help bring a championship to New York now.”